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Stop the Dominos was your first Christian album in nearly three years. How have you spent the interim period?

Has it been that long? Well, as far as recording goes, I've been busy helping on other people's projects lately. I still work with Larry Norman quite a bit, and he and I have been coproducing a guy from England named Steve Scott. I think Steve's images and poetic sense far surpass what the Christian public has been used to. I'm looking forward to the changes which may come about as a result of projects like Steve's. Also, I have been spending a good bit of my time in Europe, producing in the studios there. One band I've produced in Switzerland is already getting national airplay. I like to call them the Screaming Cheese Band. All their lyrics axe written in Swiss-German dialect. There are no Christian radio stations there; the radio is run by the government. But the "secular" society seems somewhat tolerant of projects done by Christians, because the Christians there are clearly interested in being real, and not allowing their Christianity to set them culturally apart from their friends.

I understand you've been playing concerts back a now album in Europe?

Yes; the overseas concerts and record provide feedback from different cultures. I think it's good for anybody to see how people live and how they think in different places. It helps you see the good and bad aspects of your own culture more clearly. It is quite a challenge to try and help some of these friends avoid mistakes that have been made in Christian music in the last decade in the U.S.A.

What do you do when you're at home?

I've been putting together a collection of photographs and notes made during past excursions hoping they may be of use to somebody. I've been doing exotic things like learning to knit. My wife taught me (she spins the yarn from wool). I feel guilty sometimes knowing that somewhere a sheep is running around naked - while we own his warmth in sweater form. Last but not least, Larry and Little Bobby Emmons and I have been honing our careers as bleacher bums at Dodgers games.

In the past you have mentioned your involvement with L'Abri. Have your recent trips to Europe spawned continued involvement with them?

Yes. I feel closer than ever to the people there. They were of such help to me when I had questions as a skeptic, and as a Christian. Their attitude towards the value of creativity and the Arts their support of my work has meant quite a lot to me.

You referred earlier to your days as a skeptic. Is skepticism a sin, or does it seem to you a plague of sorts to those so minded?

Skepticism doesn't have to be viewed as a liability. Unfortunately, most of the time Christians see it that way. I have had hard times in the past because of that - my questions were equated with sin by most of the believers around me, and that caused still more questions, like, "Well, shouldn't God's people be concerned enough about me to help me instead of crossing their arms and waiting for me to see things their way?" It bothered me for a long time. when a person has no rational basis for his faith, or feels that he has lost that rational basis, it is quite painful. It's hard to believe with your heart if there is conflicting information in your mind. To ignore the mind and brush off the questions is wrong, and is more an Eastern idea than a Christian one. So finally I figured, "Well, if Christianity can't stand up to questioning, it's not the truth, and if it's not worth scrutiny, it's not worth believing." So my skepticism continued and led me to look deeply into the matters in question. Most of my answers came from quiet study. Skepticism-was an asset to me in that it forced the roots of my faith to grow deeper.

Did becoming a Christian change your approach to music at all?

Well in the late Sixties when Christian music was becoming popular, in the secular world it was 'in' to inundate your songs with a message. You know, revolution and all that. Christian Rock got off on that foot, and of course most Christians began to see music as a tool with which young people could be reached with the Gospel. I always kinda resented that idea. It is valid to say that music can be used by God, but it's unfair to put a limit on the number of ways in which music can be valuable to a Christian or to someone who isn't. I hate to see music as only a podium from which one voices one's convictions. To Christians especially, there is a broad spectrum of human and artistically valuable purposes for making music other than to make background music for a revival meeting. So much Christian music is missing the human touch. When people who aren't Christians look at Christian music as a whole, they probably don't see much honesty. It's hard for me to say that because It may offend somebody; many Christian artists may really be breaking their backs to make an honest presentation of their faith. But sometimes we're so wrapped up in our own terminology, and our own trends of thought, and our own circle of understanding that we don't venture out and truly relate to someone on the outside so that they might look at us and say, "Regardless of what I think, and the biases I have, this person has really shown me the truth." We need to be concerned about being real, honest people, not haughty and pious; we should begin to stop writing things that are supposedly "spiritual" and contain all the terminology and intimations of songs that have been written throughout Christian history. We need to move on from where we are and make our faith real in the eyes of the people round us, taking off our masks and letting them see that ours are human faces as well. Otherwise we are slighting those people and fooling ourselves, and not living up to the expectations that God has of us to present the Truth as the TRUTH, and reality as it actually is, -including all its real joy, all its real pain, all its complexity and ambiguities, all its wonder.

Do you think evangelism means more than telling the simple gospel message?

We modern Christians live in an age in which evangelism enjoys a high position on the totem pole of Christian activity, or at least theology. But I'm not so sure we know what evangelism is anymore. We have told ourselves what it is thousands and thousands of times, and we have believed ourselves. It has become a creed unto itself, and the rules of it axe usually structured to lump the "unsaved" together in a general heap, and then to "witness" to them according to a prefabricated plan. Once you're a Christian it's easy to tell other people that they should be too. It seems so obvious and easy to you that you can forget that it may not seem that way to someone who is not yet a Christian himself. It's too easy to believe that everyone realizes his need for a Savior, but just - will not accept Him. I tell you, that's not the case in our society any more, and it's becoming less and less the case. What does our message mean to these people? Usually nothing. We are not even in their realm of thought. We blame their disbelief on their hard hearts, but we maybe causing them to harden more because we do not understand their pre-supposed notions of what the nature of the universe really is, and that maybe, and likely is, quite different from the orthodox Christian view. I'm not saying God can't work in their hearts, but we are responsible as well to reach their minds. So we have to learn to meet people - where they are without condescending. If someone doesn't believe God exists, do we have something more to discuss with him than to tell him we'll pray for him and leave him a tract? We have become an ugly sort of non-human in our noble efforts to take the message (the one we have told ourselves is the best form of the message) to the people, and we have failed miserably. We must realize that our non-theistically oriented society needs some background, a foundation if they are to ever understand our personalized versions of the Christian message. We must broaden our horizons in order that we may totally understand the thought forms of those around us.

Some have said your songs are too esoteric, not simplistic or straightforward enough for the Christian public. Couldn't one accuse you of doing the same thing you have called unfair, that is writing what you want to write rather than seeking a lower common denominator - which more people - would respond to? If that's where the people are, Christians in this case, according to yourself, shouldn't you meet them there?

If I placed the highest value on pleasing the largest number of Christian people, that's what I'd do. But I'm not looking for votes, and my music isn't only for Christians. I figure that given the level of consciousness found in most present day media efforts, it's important now not to compromise depth for more widespread acceptance. Most people should be intelligent enough to comprehend something if they want to. So I write what I want to write, hoping they will seek to understand the things I'm saying. You can't depend on the public market to help you decide what to write anyway. The Oral Roberts Press said my last American album was only worth one listen, and then Group magazine picked the same album as album of the year. I don't listen to either side. There'll always be plenty of people on both sides, so there's no point trying to tailor your work to fit someone's expectations.

( New Christian Music, Vol. 3 No. 4, 1984? )

Mark Heard - In Conversation PART TWO